The Downsizing Of Irrational Games Was… Illogical
Alternate title: Blame it all on Ken Levine
Irrational Games, the creators of the BioShock series is going under after 17 good years. We’re all a little bit heartbroken about it. After all they’ve given us one of the best games to ever exist and not to mention the unforgettable worlds, narratives and characters of BioShock and BioShock Infinite. These are unforgettable games that have their place in videogame history.
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Irrational Games and publisher 2K Games are in no financial trouble. Nor is parent company Take-Two. The winding down of Irrational to start something ten times smaller was a creative decision.
Ken Levine is often hailed as a demigod amongst gamers, someone that aspiring game devs look up to. If you’ve read/watched interviews with him or follow him on Twitter then you’ll know he’s a pretty awesome guy. This is not an attack on his character but rather a query of his actions along with those of Take-Two.
In fact, go to Twitter right now and take a look at Levine’s endless tweets promoting some of his developers or helping them find new jobs. It’s great to see. In fact mere hours after the news regarding Irrational Games dropped other developers were already circling. Offering their condolences but saying “hey, we’ve got a job waiting for you.”
It was great to see, in a way, and there’s little doubt that the vast majority of the employees being laid off will find new employment. The real problem is that this all seemed very needless. There is no reason to force 100-plus people onto the job market.
If your friend died because he ran into a building to rescue your prized asbestos collection, Id feel no sympathy for you. He really didn’t need to do that. I feel plenty of sympathy for the staff of Irrational games but the studio’s closure is no less illogical.
Criterion Games was a big studio but all they did was produce endless Burnout games. Yes,even those ones they grudgingly had to call Need for Speed titles. Then they cut a deal with EA. Criterion downsized dramatically to a small team that would work on something new and different while the rest of its employees got shipped off to Ghost Games where they got to keep employment but also continue making Burnout games. Everybody wins. Except for when Criterion’s founders jumped ship along with a number of other studio founders within EA’s subsidiary stable. That’s an entirely different discussion though.
What I’m getting at is that 2K is a decent-sized publisher and Take-Two is huge. It would not have been difficult to let Levine take his core team of 15 to reboot his career while still allowing Irrational to exist and all those people to keep their jobs. Unless of course this was a financial trouble issue and has been veiled as something else. That seems implausible though. It’s a conspiracy theory at best and not the fun foil hat kind either.
It is understandable that Levine wanted to hold onto a publisher that has been so good to him and likewise the publisher wanted to hold onto a creative mind that had been so good for them. What makes no sense is letting everyone else at Irrational go in order to make this happen.
Usually when developers want to break away from their big triple-A studios they jump ship and start out on their own. This is what gave us Red Barrels and a host of other indie developers. This is something a lot safer. The size and intimacy of a indie developer but with the backing of a big publisher. It’s a good move and one that will hold Levine and his new team in good stead for their future endeavours.
The other concern is that while we don’t need anymore BioShock once Burial at Sea part 2 releases, 2K and Take-Two own the IP so they can do whatever they want with it. It’s already happened in the past with BioShock 2. Mercifully that was still a good game. It’s unlikely that 2K will churn out BioShock sequels annually without Irrational presiding over the franchise. They’re not like EA or Activision or Ubisoft. We will get more BioShock though and without the people that made the first game and Infinite so great, you can expect one of gaming’s most loved franchises to slip. We’ll probably get good games but they’ll be of BioShock 2 quality and that is upsetting.
The team of 15 that Levine will retain is roughly the same size as the team that made the first System Shock so this really is a stripping down and going back to basics but there is no reason for them to have literally stripped the studio down to its bare bones. At least, there is no clear reason for things to have happened this way. Decisions like this are not spur of the moment, they are considered and calculated. there has been no real backlash or outcry from Irrational staff yet.
Do they know something we don’t or are they simply as indoctrinated as Comstock’s followers?